As prize fighter Jack Dempsey said, “the best defense is a good offense” so it is incumbent upon you to learn the terminology to make the safest food choices possible. Successful management of food allergies requires that you understand ingredients on labels. If you are ever unsure of a food item’s allergy safety, it is always best to avoid the item.
You must learn to scrutinize labels carefully for ingredients you need to avoid. This is an acquired skill and it will take a considerable amount of time to accomplish your first full grocery shopping trip.
For example, some foods will have an obvious listing for corn or milk, but the derivatives of these allergens are not so easy to recognize. Corn derivatives include maltodextrin, glucose and dextrose. Dairy/milk derivatives include casein and whey.
Fortunately, there are reliable resources available to understand food labels and ingredients. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) web site has a pull-down menu section called “Education” where you can easily learn about foods you or your loved one need to avoid to stay safe. It is broken down by each allergen, and is very user-friendly. [ http://www.foodallergy.org ]
Consider compiling a list of your specific allergens and its derivatives to take along while grocery shopping as a quick reliable reference as long as the information comes from a credible source, such as FAAN.
The Food and Drug Administration has specific standards for complete allergen disclosure on food items. There is very detailed information for consumer awareness as well as industry/regulator information that you can find on their web page http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/FoodAllergensLabeling/default.htm. [ http://www.fda gov ]
While shopping, the 1-800 number on the back of food items has been used successfully in getting more specific information about vague ingredient listings like “natural flavors.” Brand manufacturers like Frito-Lay are very helpful with on-the-spot inquiries about their products. They also have a terrific website with plenty of comprehensive information about their products at http://www.fritolay.com.
It is important to remember that once you have cleared the allergy hurdles on your food items, remain diligent and spot check the items frequently because some changes in manufacturing may result in differences to the allergen labeling and turn an old favorite into a safety hazard.
Never be afraid to ask questions when you have them. Remember that the only stupid question is the one you do not ask !